Can surface treatments be sustainable? In conversation with two sustainability experts from Tikkurila to celebrate Earth Hour.

On March 30 at half past eight in the evening, we turn off the lights to celebrate Earth Hour. It’s a chance to take a moment to reflect on the biggest challenges that we face globally: climate warming and an alarming loss of biodiversity. To honor Earth Hour, we take a moment to discuss the future of a more sustainable surface treatment industry with two experts: Elisabet Sahlin, Sustainability Manager and Cecilia Wetterholm, RDI Director in Tikkurila Sweden.


In this blog series, we venture into the world of color and meet specialists across the field to discuss surface treatments today and tomorrow, at home and abroad.

The world has finally woken up to environmental issues that need to be tackled on all fronts. How has this switch affected the surface treatment industry?

Elisabet Sahlin: The worldwide climate warming awareness has, of course, had an impact on our industry. The topic itself in the newspapers every day and people are increasingly aware of what hurts our planet and how to protect the things we love.

Cecilia Wetterholm: We’ve already done a lot, today we have plenty of water-borne alternatives to solvent-borne products, but there’s still much to do in the surface treatment industry.

ES: The market is changing due to consumers’ worries and aspirations. Increasing understanding of environmental issues is pushing consumers to pay attention to what they buy – and in turn, painters and construction companies look for more sustainable solutions to answer to consumers’ demands for better housing and a healthier environment. For example, here in Sweden, we have launched swan-labeled industrial coatings for wooden claddings to meet the stringent sustainability requirements of our customers. 

CW: I’m also hoping that more painting companies will start to consider how sustainable solutions will affect their employees’ health and safety. Less hazardous products can improve the workplace situation for many companies.

Surface treatments are not traditionally seen as particularly sustainable products. How can we work towards making them more sustainable and what are the main things to consider? 

ES: Firstly, one of the main features of a sustainable product is that it truly works. If it doesn’t, it can’t be sustainable, but if it does, it fulfils a purpose to protect or to decorate surfaces. We need to find products that work and that can stand the test of time. One of the main directions that our industry is taking now is the route towards water-borne solutions. The next step is moving away from fossil material. 

CW: Water-borne surface treatments require completely different technology compared to solvent-borne. You need to find binders and additives that work in water-borne products. This work has been ongoing for quite some time now, but there are still areas where we need new technology to reach the desired properties. When it comes to bio-based surface treatments or using reused material, we need to make sure that we find the right components to keep the performance level. 

ES: When you think about industrial coatings, one of the main hiccups that we have observed is that big industry has invested in equipment that caters to traditional surface treatments. That’s why when we develop new products like water-borne surface treatments, they might not comply with the demands of their equipment. That means that entire facilities will have to renew their equipment in order to switch to more sustainable solutions. Investing in this transition is dependent on general market demands and how attractive we can make the solutions.  

CW: Sometimes it feels like the change is slow, but when the transition starts it can all start moving very rapidly. 


What kind of a future do you see for sustainable surface treatments? 

CW: There are so many ways in which we can make a difference, both with products and solutions. We will of course continue to develop more sustainable products and offerings using new types of components and technologies. This is done in close cooperation with our suppliers, customers and research institutes. There is much more focus on sustainability and bio-based raw materials in our industry today than it was five years ago, and I think this will continue to grow. There is no turning back.

ES: I would love all of the materials that we use to be part of the circular economy. It would be fantastic if we could find a way to use recycled raw materials that are better than the virgin materials that we use today. In addition to more sustainable products, efficient logistics and distribution is important to lower the environmental impact of our business.

Lights out for our Earth 

-    Earth Hour, launched by WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), is the biggest global grassroots movement for protecting the planet. 

-    We take part in the Earth Hour climate change event on March 30 and switch off lights in our sites for the climate.  

-    The following areas have the most significant effects on mitigating climate change from the viewpoint of Tikkurila’s operations: selection of raw materials and water-borne products, protection and longer life-cycle of built environment, resource efficiency and environmental protection of our operations.

Find out more about our ways to take account of climate change > >